The Last Sun – K.D. Edwards

“—said ‘What do I look like, your talla?’ And then I said, ‘You must be mad—go live off someone else’s income, you wrecked parasite.’” The rich man pronounced wrecked in the old Atlantean accent, cleaving it into two waspish syllables. I flicked a shrimp tail into a potted plant and wiped my mouth on my tuxedo sleeve. I caught the rich man’s girlfriend giving me a raised-eyebrow look and thought, right, manners. I re-circulated through the ballroom, where snarls of people mobbed a football field’s worth of parquet flooring. Two-story, majestic windows rose toward a baroque cathedral ceiling. What wasn’t window was gilded mirror, facing each other and reflecting the gala’s light and motion in an infinite loop. It was pretty, but I couldn’t help thinking the effect was wasted on this self-indulgent crowd, like a gold filling in a rotted tooth. A glance at my watch showed there were still thirty minutes before the raid would begin. Smoothing my impatience into an expression of moral vacuity, I wandered. There was plenty to look at. Ice blocks sculpted into nude satyrs. Banquet tables supporting crystal bowls that brimmed with jewel-colored pills, and slender bottles of bizarre substances—not so much drinks as the idea of drinks, filled with oils and aloes and meaty twists of smoke. There was a fortyman chamber orchestra; a woman with flames dancing across the enamel of her teeth; a young page who chilled people’s drinks with a spell that left frostbite on his palms. Servants saturated the crowd, delivering tray after tray of champagne.

They were young, drugged, and blankly beautiful. I banked my distaste at this, and said nothing. It would be over soon enough. Missing Brand, I gave the back of my ear a sharp tap. He’d probably want to kill everything in sight too. “It’s working,” he snapped, his voice a tinny echo inside my head. “Calm the fuck down.” I hid a smile, flicked the transmitter with a fingernail, and moved on. The surge of the crowd pushed me off course, which was how I found myself in the last place I’d intended to go—by the windows that faced the ocean. I stood there and stared at the familiar stretch of shore that abutted the Lovers’ property.

The gray night tide was lit by the sweep of a decorative lighthouse. In my memory, though, it was daytime; I saw a long white beach, and sand as soft as campfire ash. I turned away from the window. A woman’s nasal soliloquy caught my attention. She was dressed in handfuls of lace cinched at the waist by a samite belt. Her sagging breasts strained against the material as she pointed out the window and spoke to a crowd of young people. “It’s true. You must have heard the stories, dearies. That is the old Lord Sun’s estate over there. I was here that night, when he was murdered.

None of us knew what was going on at the time, of course —the enemy had set stealth wards. We never heard the fighting, never heard the screams. It was a slaughter. Almost to the man. And the one who lived, the heir scion? Taken to a shed.” She leaned closer at this, her voice lowering. “Taken there by seven masked men, and, by gods, the things they did to that poor boy. They had him for hours before he escaped. He was the only survivor. You still see him around, every now and then.

A very, very pretty man, but rank with darkness. It precedes him like a fog. I can sense such things; I have seer blood. They call him the Catamite Prince, owing to his . relationship with the Tower—which I certainly wouldn’t repeat in mixed company. You must have heard—” “It’s been said my family has seer blood, too,” I interrupted. “Shit,” Brand said. The woman turned toward me. Her ears and neck sparked with sigils in the shape of sapphire jewelry. Ten, no, twelve.

She wore twelve sigils. That’s just what was in plain sight. A million dollars’ worth of magical firepower, and all of it probably used to store nothing more serious than spells to hide her flatulence, or make her eyebrows look plucked. “Truly?” she said, warming to the interruption. She narrowed her eyes suggestively at my forehead, where my disguise spell placed my eyes. The disguise made me taller and blond—and, apparently, not rank with darkness. “Yes,” I lied. “Yes, it is.” “Then tell me my future, you lovely man.” While her young relatives humored her with expressions just shy of eye rolls, I took one of her hands.

“I see you crawling on a field of blood and char, with bone shards in your hair.” Her eyes went wide, an oil spill of mascara. “Rune,” Brand said in my ear, but I was already walking away. To hell with her. To hell with her sigils, her fat fingers, her crowd of stupid boot-lickers. To hell with the Lovers and their Heart Throne and their drugged slaves. To hell with nine men in animal masks in a carriage house, and all the other stupid details people got wrong. “Don’t fucking make me come down there,” Brand said. Our Companion bond thrummed with his concern, no matter how gruff he sounded. So I stopped, closed my eyes, and took a breath.

Then another. I wasn’t the only survivor the night my father’s court was destroyed. Brand had survived, too: my Companion, born human and bonded with me in the crib, raised and trained to protect me. And he had. He’d saved me—saved us both—that night. I ducked my head and whispered, “I hate seers.” “Well aware,” Brand said. “Especially fake seers. She’s a fake seer. I hate fake seers.

” “Still fucking aware.” “Isn’t it time yet?” I asked. His low, drawn-out umm had me on guard instantly. He said, “We’ve got a hiccup. I’ve got Julie on the line to fill us in.” “Julia,” a woman stressed. Brand paused, very possibly to count to ten. He said, “Message received. Rune, you remember Julia, our uptight raid liaison. Apparently Julia dropped the ball and forgot to mention the lab wing is under a secondary security system.

” “I didn’t—!” “Julia, please, just focus,” Brand said. “Finger-pointing accomplishes nothing. I’m sure Lord Tower will be very understanding about your monumental fuck-up.” The woman took a sharp breath. “Lord Sun, please listen. It’s true the lab wing is on a separate security system, but we’ve still got a few minutes before the raid begins. I have the security book for tonight’s party, and I know which of the Lovers’ people are on plainclothes duty and where they’re stationed. I’ve identified at least one high-level security director with an access card that should get you into the lab.” She directed me to an archway by the chamber orchestra. Past it, every other archway on the first floor was lined up so you could see a dozen adjacent richly appointed rooms in shotgun procession.

Julia told me to narrow my search to a man just under six feet, with ginger hair and hazel eyes. “There’s three,” I whispered. “Three what?” Brand asked. I put my mouth against my sleeve as if to cough and said, “Three tall red-haired guys.” “Of course there fucking are,” Brand said. Julia said, “Check all their pockets after the spell blast goes off. Take any key cards with the Heart Throne logo on it. It’s the best we can do. They won’t hold the raid on our account.” I glanced back at the red-haired men.

One was staring at his fingers with a dreamy expression. He had primary-colored smears around his mouth, probably from the rainbow pill buffet. The remaining two were standing by the wall, watching the antics of the crowd. I went back into the crowd and found the loudest, most offensive drunk in eyesight. “Is it true?” I asked him. He turned unsteadily from a beleaguered group of people, who took advantage of my interruption to slip away. He glared at me blearily and said, “Is what true?” “That you did that thing. With the horse.” “What thin’ with the horse?” “The redheaded guy by the doorway—right over there—he said you blew a horse in the stable on a bet. He’s telling everyone.

How did you keep the horse still? I’ve got some Tic Tacs if you need one.” The drunk swung through the crowd. He got confused when he saw two redheads and picked one at random. He made some blah-blah tough guy sounds and started shoving. The redhead shoved back. You can learn a lot about a person by the way they fight—profession, temperament, sometimes even ethnicity or nationality. This particular redhead had no training, no balance. While he was shoving the drunk away, he wasn’t thinking ahead to strike, let alone about the next counterstrike. But the second redhead was watching the altercation with calm and assessing eyes. He stood with his right side facing the shoving match to minimize body target, knees loose and shoulder-width apart, weight shifted to the balls of his feet.

“Rune, it’s starting,” Brand said sharply. “Stay safe.” It happened at once. The spell smashed through the room—not quite an explosion, more like heat rising from asphalt in fast-forward. Nearly everyone in eyesight collapsed. Just collapsed. The only sounds were the hiss of fabric; the clatter of orchestra instruments; an overturned pill bowl that scattered drugs across the parquet. When it was over, there were only four of us on our feet. We picked our way through the tangle of bodies, exchanging nods and clipped greetings. A large group of Arcana had banded together to attack the Lovers in the raid; and now that the Lovers’ guards were immobilized, each had their own part of its corpse they wanted to pick clean.

“You okay?” Brand asked. “Countercharm worked fine,” I said. I went and rifled through the security guard’s pockets for his key card. I found it on the first go. Once upon a time, the Heart Throne had been the archetype of sex and love and shiny, happy fluids. They’d been important to Atlantis. We’re a society, after all, that embraces the idea of group marriage, that finds pure heterosexuality as abnormal as pure homosexuality. We flaunt our appeal as a matter of breeding and survival. But after the fall of the Atlantean homeland, the Lovers, like so many of my people, changed. They started making ventures into unwelcome, even forbidden practices.

Worse, they crossed borders to do it. They compromised our treaties with the human world and put all of New Atlantis at risk. And so a decision was made. No less than twelve Arcana banded together under a legally sanctioned raid. In exchange for tactical strength and manpower, each Arcana would get a share of the spoils. They would divide the Lovers’ people, assets, precious metals, real estate, bank accounts, magic, artwork, heirlooms, technology, sigils . Termites were less effective than a formal raid. I was there at the behest of my sometime-employer and former protector, Lord Tower. Which was what took me toward the lab, where I might finally get to stab someone. Other members of the raid ghosted past me as I made my way to the west wing.

They were dressed as guests, servants, slaves, valets, bartenders—whatever it had taken to get them through the door and in position for the attack. The key card got me past every door. The main building’s decorative knickknacks eventually phased into an office area’s utilitarian gray carpets and humming fluorescence. I shook my wrist. My sabre, now in the form of a scuffed gold wrist-guard, stretched and slid over my knuckles. By the time it was in my palm, it had transmuted into a swordless hilt, which I held facing outward like brass knuckles. It was a powerful and adaptable tool, built from fire magic. It was one of the few weapons that had survived the fall of the Sun Throne. “You don’t call; you don’t write,” Brand said in my ear. I smiled.

“What’s happening downstairs?” “The main raid just broke in. Fun for all.” “And all of the Lovers’ people are still knocked out?” “Yeah, but keep sharp,” he said. “Knowing you, you’ll get surprised by the one guard who happened to pass out in a lead-lined shitter.” “I can handle myself.” “Sure you can,” he said, “but you’re wearing my fucking jacket.” “Is Julia still on our channel?” “I’m here,” Julia said. “Just curious—any sign of Lady Lovers?” “Negative. We can’t even confirm she’s on-site. Another team is tracking her.

” I was coming up on the entrance to the lab wing. Bulletproof plastic blocked the corridor. A door of the same material had been fitted with a card reader. Seven mercenaries waited for me. It would be their job to tie up the unconscious scientists and lab workers. The merc in front, shouldering a shortened assault rifle, stepped over. “It’s a different security system, my lord. We’re going to have to blow through.” “Or,” I said, and flashed the key card in front of the scanner. A panel burped green, and the door slid open.

Without another word, the soldiers crouched low, sifted through the opening, and dispersed in different directions. I followed a memorized floor plan with some occasional guidance from Julia. My destination was one of the chemical labs. If intel was right, it was one of the least-fortified spots with terminal access to the Lovers’ operating system. The operating system was reportedly the closest thing in development to an actual artificial intelligence; the Tower had cashed in a lot of favors to stake it during the raid. I entered the lab with my sabre raised. Two men—two conscious men—were huddled on the other side of the room. They were pale and shaking. In their white lab coats, they resembled the sickly mice they experimented on. One of them, a young guy, held a stapler; the other, an unplugged desk lamp.

I said, “Two scientists, an entire lab full of nasty chemicals, and that’s the best you came up with.” The older of the two dropped the desk lamp and snatched a stainless-steel letter opener off the desk. He grabbed his young colleague and shoved him in front as a human shield, then pressed the tip of the letter opener to the boy’s jugular. “I’ll kill him,” the scientist said breathlessly. “I swear, I’ll kill him. Stand aside and let me go.” “Am I missing something?” I asked. “Do you want his death on your conscience?” the man demanded. “He’s a slaver. You’re a slaver.

I’m still missing something.” “He’s an intern. And we’re not slavers!” “I see,” I said, and shot his hostage in the thigh with a bolt of fire. The young man screamed and dropped and curled in a vomiting fetal position. The older man started gibbering in panic. He dove into a corner of the room and pulled himself into a ball. I went to the nearest computer terminal and stuck a flash drive in the USB port. It was programmed to do all of the work for me, which was just as well, since my computer skills were limited to dodging the spyware on porn sites. When the red light stopped blinking, I pulled the flash drive loose and headed out. “This is wrong,” the older scientist moaned.

I stopped. “Excuse me?” “This is not right.” “Do you even know what’s going on?” I asked. “Scapegoats,” he spat. “You’ve made us scapegoats to human law. We are Atlantean.” “Are you part of Project Laius?” I asked. The scientist shut his mouth, surprised. “You are, aren’t you?” I said. “That’s so awesome.

” I shot him in the head with a sabre blast. He tipped and convulsed for the whole two seconds it took him to die. The stuff that began with projects like Laius had ended with the mind-fucking of underage kids, who spent the rest of their miserable lives in dog collars as someone else’s property. So I did what I did, and my conscience whistled. Brand was in mid-shout as I left the room. “What are you going on about?” I asked, starting down the corridor at a light jog. “What the fuck happened to you!” “I downloaded the program. You didn’t hear all that? Two of them were awake.” “Hear what? I couldn’t even feel you through our bond. Julia, what the fucking hell is going on? Why did we lose him?” A moment of static and Julia said, “I’ve got similar reports from the other mercs in that wing.

The rooms must be shielded. Not everyone was dropped by the spell blast. We need to plan your extraction, Lord Sun.” There were some additional noises on the line. Julia said, “Wait! We’re— Yes. Yes, we’re also getting reports the spell blast is wearing off sooner than we expected. I don’t know if a team has had time to secure the roof. Abort roof exit.” “No,” I said. “It’s the quickest way out, and I’m ready to leave.

” “I don’t know if it’s secure. Abort roof exit.” “Well, since you repeated yourself,” I said, banging through the metal fire door that led to a stairway that led to the roof. “I’m mission coordinator; you’re required to follow my lead. Shall I make this an order?” she demanded. Brand laughed. “Look, Julia, I’ll handle it from here. He’s my partner. We planned on a roof exit.” “You serve your partner poorly,” she said in a tight, clipped voice.

“If you want him out of the building alive, the safest route—” “Mind your fucking manners,” Brand said, all humor evaporating. “He’s not one of your mercenaries; he’s a scion of Atlantis. If it was a question about needing safe routes, I’d have him turn the entire side of the mansion to slag and gingerly fucking tiptoe through the puddles of plasma. Get off the goddamn line. Rune, fuck, this is why I hate teamwork.” I proceeded with my exit as Brand disconnected Julia. The roof was flat and strewn with gravel. My line of sight was crowded with HVAC units and elevator machine rooms. The fire-exit door swung shut on a slow spring. I tilted my face into a humid ocean breeze, letting it tangle my bangs.

“I’m out,” I said. “Have a nice flight,” Brand said distractedly. “Yeah, about that. I was thinking maybe instead, I can just drop down to the lawn and—” A man stepped around a corner in front of me. He had an assault weapon. Its barrel jerked up. I barely had time to think I should have activated my Shield spell a few minutes ago, when something cracked and the man fell down. A red mist floated where his head had been. When I could breathe again, I said, “I especially liked it when you didn’t warn me. That part was fun.

” “Fucking ingrate,” Brand said in my ear. “I was lining him up when you walked outside.” I squinted at a water tower some two thousand feet away. Brand was an excellent marksman. It was one of the reasons we’d lasted as long as we had. That and my magic. Because the cool transmitters, and spell bombs, and the squads of mercenary backup? Those weren’t resources we normally had. A normal job went like this: I went somewhere I shouldn’t, I tried not to get caught, and if I did, Brand shot someone in the head. It was a good day when the corpse had pizza money. “Any more surprises?” I asked.

“You want warning?” “That’d be nice,” I said. “Duck.” A dragon rose behind the mansion on wings as long as a tour bus. It spat out a stream of nuclear fire and demolished a guard tower. I could feel the heat from half a rooftop away, but hopefully not the radiation. I’d heard Lord Chariot had summoned one of the remaining dragons for the raid, but seeing it was something else. Just as the dragon glided out of sight, panic—genuine panic—suddenly buzzed through my Companion bond. Brand said, “Rune. Get out of there. Now!” I dropped behind a heating duct and reached for my ankle sigil just as Elena—Arcana of the Lovers, head of the godsdamn Heart Throne—swept across my line of sight.

She lifted an arm toward a seamless limestone wall. A dark archway rippled into visibility. She went through. “Rune,” Brand warned after a few seconds. “Move.”

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